Sunday, March 26, 2006

Inferiority Complex

Christianity Today has this chilling piece on the Abdul Rahman case. Rahman, you'll remember is the 41 year old Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity:

Almost every western nation is calling for the freedom of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan convert to Christianity who faces the death penalty for doing so. At the same time, Afghan clerics are threatening revolt and murder if the Afghan court does not execute him. Is there any way out? Prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari thinks there might be: Rahman, he said, seems crazy. "We think he could be mad," he told the Associated Press. "He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person." Freeing Rahman on grounds of insanity would probably mean he would be killed by local Muslims. The Associated Press reports that local imams aren't buying the craziness excuse. Abdull Raoulf, who is a member of the country's main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, agreed. "The government is playing games," said Abdul Raoulf. "The people will not be fooled. Cut off his head! We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there's nothing left." The Associated Press identified Raoulf as a "moderate."

This is, Eugene Volokh notes, one of the most troubling things about calls for the death of Abdul Rahman. They're coming from clerics and ordinary lay people who are considered mainstream and "moderate":

The striking thing about the Abdul Rahman prosecution - in which an Afghanistan court is considering whether to execute Rahman because he converted from Islam to Christianity - is how Establishment the prosecution is. The case is before an official Afghani court. The death sentence is, to my knowlege, authorized by official Afghani law. The New York Times reports that the prosecutor, an Afghan government official, "called Mr. Rahman 'a microbe' who 'should be killed.'" The case is in a country which is close to the West, and is presumably under at least some special influence from Western principles (whether as a matter of conviction or of governmental self-interest).

We're not talking about some rogue terrorist group, or even the government of Iran, which is deliberately and strongly oppositional to the West. We're talking about a country that we're trying to set up as something of a model of democracy and liberty for the Islamic world. And yet the legal system is apparently seriously considering executing someone for nothing more than changing his religion.

This is telling evidence, it seems to me, that there is something very wrong in Islam today, and not just in some lunatic terrorist fringe. Doubtless many, I would hope most, Muslims would not endorse executing converts. But a strand of the religion, and a strand that is not far from the levers of political power in at least some countries, does seem to endorse such a position. This is deeply dangerous, most obviously to residents of countries in which radical Islamism has broad support, but also to residents of Western countries as well.

The incomprehensible (to the Western mind) hostility of Muslims to those who poke fun at their icons or forsake the religion altogether belies a fundamental insecurity in the Muslim consciousness about the validity of their belief system. They sense its inability to persuade the mind and realize it must be spread through fear and intimidation. Like communists during the cold war Muslims know that they have little to offer people so they must resort to the harshest of sanctions to keep the masses from straying across the border.

Compared to the spiritual and cultural riches of Christianity, Muslims subliminally realize, Islam is a religious ghetto. Muslims suffer from a lethal combination of inferiority and persecution complexes which cause the faithful to lash out in hatred at heretics and apostates like Salman Rushdie and Abdul Rahman. Any challenge to the slightest detail of the faith is seen as a dire threat to the entire edifice and must not be tolerated. This is not how people, secure and confident in the basic rightness of their beliefs, act.

Kill, Kill, Kill

The media's favorite Imam, the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is about to tumble from his pedestal. The Ayatollah has sealed his doom with the Western media (and rightly so, we should add). Al-Sistani has issued a fatwa on his web site that demonstrates where enlightened Islam stands today:

In the midst of sectarian violence that threatens to drag Iraq into civil war, the country's influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a violent death order against gays and lesbians on his Web site, according to London-based LGBT human rights groups OutRage.

Written in Arabic, the fatwa comes from a press conference with the powerful religious cleric, where he was asked about the judgment on sodomy and lesbianism. "Forbidden," Sistani answered, according to OutRage, "Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing."

Considering Sistani's stature and influence within the Iraqi Shiite majority, OutRage member Ali Hili declared the cleric's statements extremely dangerous. "Sistani's murderous homophobic incitement has given a green light to Shia Muslims to hunt and kill lesbians and gay men," said Hili. "We hold Sistani personally responsible for the murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Iraqis. He gives the killers theological sanction and encouragement."

Muslims want to kill Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan because he's a Christian, they want to kill their wives and sisters because they date people of whom poppa doesn't approve, they want to kill gays and lesbians in Iraq because they're gay and lesbian. The Shia want to kill the Sunnis and vice-versa, and they both want to kill the Crusaders. Kill, kill, kill. What a religion. Allah be praised.

What Would Jesus Do?

Imagine you're one of the parents of the young woman journalist who has been kidnapped in Iraq. Every day you pray that she will be found. Your life is paralyzed because you can think of nothing else but her safety. And then you read that Christians who have been recently freed from kidnappers, and who may have information which could lead to the rescue of your daughter, refuse to help the people who are searching for her:

The three peace activists freed by an SAS-led coalition force after being held hostage in Iraq for four months refused to co-operate fully with an intelligence unit sent to debrief them, a security source claimed yesterday. The claim has infuriated those searching for other hostages.

We can imagine. We're quite certain it has also infuriated the families of other kidnap victims. We can't understand why the CPT people think it is somehow Christian to refuse to divulge information that would help rescue other victims. If a child had been kidnapped in their home town and they had information that could lead to the child's rescue but which might entail the use of force, would they refuse to tell the police what they know? Evidently so. It's hard to imagine Jesus approving of such smug self-righteousness which, like that of the Pharisees, elevates a rigid dogma over compassion for human beings.

The account in the Telegraph has some interesting information about the rescue, including this:

Neither the men nor the Canadian group that sent them to Iraq have thanked the people who saved them in any of their public statements.

Although the CPTs has welcomed the men's release, it has not thanked the rescuers in any of its statements. It blamed the kidnapping on the presence of foreign troops in the country, which was "responsible for so much pain and suffering in Iraq today". When told how angry the coalition was feeling, Claire Evans, a spokesman for the CPTs in America, said: "We are extremely grateful to everybody who had a role leading to the men's release."

Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the chief of the defence staff, told Channel 4 News: "I am slightly saddened that there does not seem to have been a note of gratitude for the soldiers who risked their lives to save those lives." Asked if he meant that Mr Kember had not said thank you, he said: "I hope he has and I have missed it."

It emerged that about 50 soldiers, led by the SAS, including men from 1 Bn the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines, as well as American and Canadian special forces, entered the kidnap building at dawn. A deal had been struck with a man detained the previous night who was one of the leaders of the kidnappers. He was allowed a telephone call to warn his henchmen to leave the kidnap house. When the troops moved in and found the prisoners alive, they also let him go as promised.

Perhaps CPT has in fact cooperated in the search for other victims to the extent that they are able, but their assistance just hasn't been made public. We hope so. If, on the other hand, CPT thinks they are reflecting Christ to the world by refusing to help they're deluding themselves and giving Christianity as big a black eye as Pat Robertson ever has.

A Blessing to the World

Science and Theology News has this item about a new book by Baylor Prof Rodney Stark:

It's one of history's most important questions: Why did Europe and North America embrace democracy and thrive economically while nations elsewhere suffered oppression and stagnation?

According to leading U.S. sociologist Rodney Stark, many scholars purposely overlook the obvious answer: It was the spread of Christianity that made possible political and economic freedoms, modern science and resulting Western advancement.

Such is the Baylor University professor's contention in The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success, one of the more provocative of recent books whose vigorous prose reflects the author's one-time employment as a newspaper reporter.

Although Western intellectuals downplay theology, Stark said he sees Christian beliefs as the key. He said the basis for the West's rise was "an extraordinary faith in reason'' resulting from Christianity, which "alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth.'' Faith in humanity's reasoning capacity, in turn, stimulated scientific theory-making, democratic theory and individual freedoms. Capitalism applied this to economics, producing an explosion of wealth, he said.

Stark rejects the century-old scenario of Max Weber that Protestantism under-girded capitalism. He said that the main elements were invented by Catholic monks and lay Italians centuries before the Reformation.

But Stark ignores the impact of the Jews' biblical view of the world that was later adopted by Christians. He also impugns Islam, arguing that a major segment of Muslim thought "condemns all efforts to formulate natural laws as blasphemy in that they deny Allah's freedom to act. Thus, Islam did not fully embrace the notion that the universe ran along on fundamental principles laid down by God at the creation.''

It seems to be a consensus view among scholars that the ancient Christian convictions that the world is a created entity, that it was brought into being by a rational God, and that man is to be a steward of the earth, led to the beliefs that it is not blasphemous to study the world, that the world is not capricious and will thus reveal its secrets to rational inquiry, and that it is here for our use. These ideas in turn led to the development of Western science, technology, and progress in improving the quality of human life.

Christianity has not been without its shortcomings, of course, but on balance it has been a wonderful blessing to humanity.